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A case of second place: GSHS mock trial team national runner-up

Carrie Click

May 3, 2003

GLENWOOD SPRINGS – They came, they saw, and they almost conquered.

So said teacher and trial coach Wes Burke, who just returned from New Orleans and the National High School Mock Trial Championships with the second-best trial group in the country: the eight-member Glenwood Springs High School Mock Trial Team.

Mock trial is similar to debate, but more closely resembles a court trial situation. Glenwood’s team climbed to the national mock trial championships by first winning Colorado’s state championship. That meant beating out 76 teams from all over the state – no small feat considering that unlike school athletic competitions, mock trial competitors are up against students from schools of all sizes.

Glenwood’s state win propelled them into national competition in New Orleans, where they performed the roles of the attorneys and witnesses in a case that all teams argue, either representing the plaintiff or the defendant. Teams don’t know which side they’ll be arguing until moments before the trial begins.

“The team placed second to Tennessee in a well-fought battle for the national title,” said Burke “The Tennessee team prevailed by only four points. It was a very close match.”

“It was great,” said trial coach and parent Charlie Willman. “Forty-four states and provinces were represented. We have a great group of kids.”

Glenwood’s team – Caitlin Barnes, Marco Salmen, Abby Willman, Jacob Ziemann, Christi Slater, Jessica Beck, Alec Littler and Emily Cochran – spent three days arguing eight trials in the Louisiana Supreme Court chambers, with the chief justice of the state overseeing the action.

The team got closer to the national title after each round, beating out Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Washington, Wyoming, Delaware, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, finally losing out to Tennessee.

It was a family affair in New Orleans, as nearly all of the students’ parents and some siblings went along on the trip. Local coaches who attended the championships were Judge Vic Zerbi, Willman, Ruben Hernandez, Ken Jaynes, Amanda Maurer, Matt Kauffman, Tom Cochran and Burke.

“It’s a really fun city,” said Burke. “Our hotel was really close to the French Quarter. We ate very well.”

For this year’s national championships, all teams argued a case modeled after the Florida 2000 presidential election, only this trial was set around election fraud in a high school election, complete with hanging, dimpled and pregnant chads.

A fictitious high school student named Catherine Doucet was suing to be reinstated as her student body president after the principal of the school threw out 27 disputed absentee ballots with dimpled chads. In the trial, another student named Earline Long – a distant relative of Louisiana Governor Huey Long – won the election.

“Last year the trial centered on the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, which the kids really loved,” said Burke. “This year’s wasn’t as exciting, but the kids were really ready with their arguments, both representing the plaintiff and the defendant.”

Burke said this is the 11th year Glenwood has participated in mock trail competition. He said even though it would seem as if the mock trial team would be an appropriate place for budding attorneys to get their start, that’s not the case.

“Only two students from mock trial have ever gone on to law school. This might just cure them,” Willman added with a smile.

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